Leda Writes for Fintech Futures: the patience of lambs

Dr Leda Glyptis 11:FS Foundry CEO
5min read

Each week, Leda Glyptis, CEO of 11:FS Foundry, creates #LedaWrites. This week, she explains why patience is no longer a virtue big banks can reply upon.

This article first appeared on Fintech Futures.

Last time this banker went a-banking, Abraham Tachijan (@abraham066) joked that I should write about patience and banking.

He was joking. Or was he?

Because it was only a matter of time before my adventures with the behemoth in red resumed.

I had to do a thing.

Before you think “complexity”, I just needed to set up the app on my new phone.

I am, as most of us in this niche community, multi-banked.

So the new phone meant I had to ensure a variety of banking apps were up and running. The challengers were seamless. Some of the foreign banks too.

But my UK high street bank?


The whole story

It took three devices and two people (me and the lovely lady on the phone) two different sets of passwords (because the app and website cannot be subject to the same authentication parameters, it is not safe, so I have to pretend to be a different user). Different credentials. Different username. Different authentication paths. Different everything. Almost disappointed to see the same amount of money sitting on the account, to be honest.

Why are you doing this, Debbie? I asked.

For your security, says Debbie.

Debbie got a lecture.

She was actually interested.

Ok, she said. The truth is we have to do it because we are told to do it. Nobody can update some of those credentials without a human being involved (on the phone or in branch).

Why? Because there is no third-party access to the systems that hold some of the data needed.

It is designed that way. It is built that way.

Or was.

Back in the stone ages.

I take a deep breath. Is that what you meant, Abraham?

Ok. Are we done now?

Not quite, says Debbie.

You have to call back.

Why, in the name of all that is holy, do I have to go through this again?

Because… drumroll… “online banking is down”.


How long has this been the case, Debbie?

All day.

And why did we just do all this, since you knew you could not help me, Debbie.


When do you think it will it be back up?

We don’t know.

What do you want me to do now?

We don’t know.

What does that even mean, Debbie?

“It means I can’t fix it for you because it affects all our customers,” says Debbie, as if that were an acceptable answer.

Debbie, how long do you think this will go on for?

A few days.

A few days without internet banking? In 2020?

Yes, said Debbie.

I realise how ridiculous it sounds.

Thank you, Debbie.

I am so, so sorry you have to deal with this, she said. And I am sorry you have to defend the indefensible, Debbie.

We got off the phone fast friends.

And I had to call back two days later when “the internet” was back up.

Surely that’s patient, right?

But the truth is, I wasn’t going to blog about it. It’s funny, but it’s a “so what” kind of story and these are not so what kind of times.

And yet.

This morning (which is, admittedly, a few weeks ago by the time you are reading, dear reader) I got the standard COVID-19 message from the CEO of this very bank.

Interestingly, my butcher, the challengers, my florist in Greece, Deliveroo, Uber, my gym and every other service provider under the sun had gotten in there days ago. Today, the high street banks woke up and I had coordinated responses from the two major high street banks I deal with. In tandem.

It is an appeal for us to self-serve because the humans who normally do it are ailing and can’t come to the phone right now

One was the bank I have my mortgage with. Cookie cutter “we care about you and your family” and these are the things that we are looking at for you. Almost good. And I say almost because about six hours before, I had received a text saying “please don’t call us about mortgage holidays, we will be in touch when we work something out”. Almost human. Almost customer-centric. Almost good. But almost is not when you hit send, guys. Almost is your cue to work harder at it.

That said, it was still better than my favourite behemoth in red.

We care about you and your family, said the email. Check.

We hope you are healthy and stay that way. Check.

We are here for you. Oh do tell.

And then the most incredibly non-ironic, non-self-aware summary of why this new era is passing you by, sirs: an appeal for customers to use the digital services and channels lovingly provided by your bank, as the virus is affecting the bank’s teams and the call centres are currently under-staffed at the same time as branches are closing so the letter is not an offer of help, it is not a list of services and provisions the bank is pushing forward to customers in these hard times.

Oh no.

It is an appeal for us to self-serve because the humans who normally do it are ailing and can’t come to the phone right now.

That is horrible, of course. For the humans involved.

For the bank it is a “are you freaking kidding me” moment.

The game is up. Time is up

Your chicken and egg of creating human bridges to avoid the cost of overhauling your infrastructure to provide seamless functionality has come home to roost in a mixed metaphor that would be hilarious if it was not tragic.

And it is tragic because humans are ailing.

And it is tragic because the service will falter and people will find themselves unable to do basic things and unable to use even the frustrating work-around of human intervention provided by the call centre.

Because when was calling ever a first choice? And before you tell me “oh, you would be surprised, people call to ask for their balance”, trust me I won’t be surprised by anything people or their bankers do. It’s been 20 years. I’ve seen it all and very little surprises me these days.

Not even the fact that this bank, like many others, took shortcuts and put the onus of navigating their systems and policies onto the customer and their lower paid employees in order to avoid spending on technology.

It was never a good plan from a service provision perspective but hey mass retail is not where the money is made so a choice was made to reprioritise. I don’t know that for a fact but I know what they are spending on tech elsewhere so if the shoe fits, wear it.

Better is possible. Better is needed. Better is now both a business decision and a moral imperative

So let’s try this one on for size: your tech is inadequate and your chosen workaround was forcing customers to reach a dead end, call your help centre and have humans do over-rides or manual hacks. And now the humans are sick and can’t come to work. So you tell your customers to rely on the digital channels that we all know are not fully plumbed in, that we know don’t support all functionality, that we know are not designed to deliver against the full suite of customer needs. We know it because you built it that way and we have been using it and discovered the limitations of the current set up time and again. But no matter. Send the customer back to the start of the journey and tell them to keep trying.

And be patient.

I think not.

The game is up. Time is up.

And this is evidently not a drill. The world is going into lockdown and your letter confirmed what the client experience had already told us. You are ill-prepared and ill-equipped for what is now needed of you.

Sadly time is not on your side any more. And what was hard just got harder.

I say this with all the empathy of someone who has been on the inside and all the frustration of someone who’s hit her head against the brick wall of your service delivery time and again: counting on the patience of your customers, staff and regulators was one nifty trick. But I trust and hope it has run its course.

Better is possible. Better is needed. Better is now both a business decision and a moral imperative.

Your move, Big Bank.